Imagine the scene: Cornel West’s hip hop album bumps through the speakers, rum marinates cola splashed in both glasses, and a sultry incense of sorts seasons the air. A black woman and a white man begin politicking in a first floor apartment. M1 of deadprez and KRS-One are featured on the track, a gun cocking keeps time, and Dr. West drops true knowledge: “Let these gay and lesbian brothers and sisters live a life of dignity.” At that very moment, an Escalade full of white men rolls slow down the street, blaring Weezy’s “Lollipop.”
Soul Sista #1: I hate Lil’ Wayne.
White Man: Yeah, the content is whack, but the flow is crazy. Nobody’s really spittin’ that innovative.
SS#1: A’ight, but my question is, why do so many white boys love bumping that ignorant-ass-isht? It seems like they’re trying to live out some pseudo-fantasy that extends past a desire to be gangsta but also a desire to be black — which creeps me out. Voyeurism is dangerously othering and has been since the days of minstrelsy. Is there something qualitatively different now that white boys aren’t painting their faces black anymore? What does it mean that these white boys are so enamored of a culture that has black roots, even thought it’s transcontinental in scope today?
WM: Wow … heavy hittin’ questions. Um … I love how you ask me to speak on behalf of the entire white male species; I’ll do my best. I think you’re really right: there is a strange fascination with blackness and the ghetto — I think probably because the suburban world of strip malls and chain restaurants, and the rest of the world which is always mediated through the computer screen, TV and stereo, has so sapped life of its substance that many privileged people strive to experience something more “real.” The funny part is, most of their experience with hip hop is filtered by MTV and record labels into another lifeless banter that is performed as spectacle to be consumed in safe spaces. Not to mention that the presupposition that Blackness offers something more “real” is just another form of fetishitization and evidence of the oppression white people face as privileged persons under the ideology of white supremacy. White persons often look for cultures to belong to — as if we don’t have one of our own, as if we can’t have one of our own. I think the challenge is to own up to the ugliness of what we have created and work humbly for its betterment. That means fighting racism, patriarchy and class-based oppression. Only in these struggles can European Americans create a culture that is both beautiful and authentic.
SS#1: But there’s a ton of realness in the suburbs that white people don’t talk about because they’re too busy denying it while they bump Weezy in the Escalade. By the way, I didn’t ask you to speak on behalf of all white men, it’s just that I’m so used to being asked to speak on behalf of black people that sometimes I slip up. To do so would be to ask questions as they appear in books, cable news and even newspapers, that is: the issues of hip hop are always talked about as black and white, rich and poor, male and female: a bunch of false binaries that we’re taught to take as natural. Continuing the discussion in this manner is really limiting us from digging deeper into the ways we are all products and consumers of this so-called culture, which is really a composite of many cultures.
WM: I agree. This so-called culture is a composite of organic cultural movements that have been co-opted by the music industry, mass manufactured and sold in easy to understand packages through which we define ourselves. I mean, it’s true that a lot of hip hop is dumb misogynistic but to simply blame MCs — usually black men — for their misogyny without examining its true roots in the hegemonic white spaces — the music industry, for example — is to poorly understand both patriarchy and hip hop.
SS#1: True. Akon and Snoop are busy talking about females grinding on poles and these rich ass white boys are out here bumping it in their whips without thinking about all the black and Latina women out there getting HIV who are obscured by the hegemonic culture that these rappers are copying in order to sell records and be heard in the first place. Yeah, these so-called hip hop fans might know about all the latest beef or even the roots of it, but they are nothing more than passive consumers of what is produced for them by record labels. I mean if you really want to talk about the authenticity of the music and the consumers of it, then let’s talk about the non-recognition and lack of active engagement with the real struggles that happen day to day. To be an authentic fan means to take seriously and think critically about the content of the material you are consuming and most importantly to act on it in your daily life.
WM: Yes, indeed. Sounds like praxis to me.
Evan Baker Smith is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Praxis Makes Perfect appears alternate Tuesdays.